It is indeed a privilege to be here and more importantly to join with other Caribbean nations in the celebration of this ‘Caribbean Youth Day’. ‘Youth’, irrespective of colour, creed, nationality or religion have for decades been heralded as ‘the wave of the future’ and the backbone on which any economy stands. The term ‘Youth’ has been synonymous with life and vitality, ingenuity and innovativeness, strength and skill. Such connotations still remain today and are even superseded with the unmistakable and seemingly boundless potential that Caribbean Youth evince. However, a threat looms large which, if not recognised, or if allowed to continue uninhibited, would not only be inimical to youth and the fulfillment of their obvious promise, but could also result in the relinquishing of any hope for sustained economic vitality as a region. This ‘threat’, seen as subtle by some and glaringly blatant by others, is the relatively high incidence of unemployment in our region, hence the advocacy by the United Nations (as will be reflected in the discussions today) to ‘create sustainable employment for young people’. Such a fervent cry cannot be ignored any longer.
Employment and the monetary compensation that ensues from this contract has been the pillar of many societies, contributing not only to the needs of the individual, but to the survival of any society at large. Where the former is concerned, employment and being employed serve to forge the identity of many individuals as a sense of independence is fostered and the prospects of achieving some level of upward mobility are diligently pursued. Not only do such realities increase one’s possibilities for a certain quality of life through the ability to meet basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter but one’s life expectancy is significantly enhanced as adequate monetary compensation can also assure the provision\affordability of basic healthcare needs. Not surprisingly, societal benefits of employment become even more evident as social responsibility is manifested through less criminally-motivated activities and even the payment of income taxes. In many civilised societies, such positive tendencies are an assurance that public facilities and services are improved. Such could be the realities in Guyana and the Caribbean at large if concerted, strategic and systemic efforts are directed toward the vast numbers of unemployed young persons residing in these parts.
According to the International Labour Organisation’s 2010 Report ‘Global Economic Trends for Youth’, the Caribbean region has seen a decline in the unemployment rate when comparing the years 1998 and 2008. While such findings may seem encouraging, in a setting marked by youthful and increasing populations as against the more aging populations in the European Union and the developed world, the youth employment-to-population ratio is projected to see a decline. Hence, dealing with the issue of unemployment now becomes even more critical.
Events over the last year have provided grim reminders of the vulnerability of Caribbean economies to global trends, external shocks and business collapses elsewhere. In today’s increasingly globalised and competitive world, often marked by ‘survival of the fittest’, one should not underestimate the value of pursuing an education as it is a vital requirement in attaining sustainable employment which denotes not only an extended stay in a particular job, but opportunities for professional and social advancement. As reiterated by a UNDP report in June 2010, “throughout the world it has been found that the probability of finding employment rises with higher levels of education” Unfortunately, this global probability of employment does not necessarily translate into practical accessibility of employment at the local level.
Speaking from the standpoint of an International Relations graduate who despite working hard and excelling (with first class honours) at the University of Guyana, I am still unemployed after applying to in excess of thirty(30) places of employment. While having the required academic qualifications, I have been repeatedly told that applications would be placed on file until there is an available opening or that I lack the requisite experience for the job. This has been the painful reality not only for me but approximately 80% of my former classmates and many others who would have graduated. To adequately address this deficiency in the job market, several things are needed, including a culture that celebrates and rewards excellence and committed endeavour, as well as recruitment policies and practices that give priority to securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity. To rephrase Martin Luther King’s dream, candidates should be judged not by the colour of their eyes, the texture of their hair or the shade of their skin, but by the quality of their competence and the content of their character.
There needs to be more collaboration between international and governmental organisations to ensure that the perennial ‘brain drain’ is curbed through the provision of internships which would serve to bridge the gap and provide the requisite experience for those desirous of being employed.
At this point, I wish to commend the Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP) which has been known to provide internships for those in their third year in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Guyana.
Besides, renewed attention should be given to on-the-job training even if this would result in a reduction in an employee’s salary during weeks or months of training. Such training, not only for new staff workers but for those whose skills need to be updated in an increasingly competitive job market, is essential if the dream of sustainable employment is to be fully realised.
Despite such daunting challenges for so many in the job market, all is not lost. Young people are by nature very innovative and should therefore be sensitised to the many prospects for self employment as an alternative stream of income. To ensure that such a vision is realised, youth training centers could be established (whether temporarily or permanently) at central locations where individuals would be trained in their area of interest should such desired services be available. This calls for the collaborative efforts of not only the private sector but also government agencies to ensure that there is relatively easy access to technical, financial, physical and organisational resources. Such ventures can make youth entrepreneurship a reality.
Such recommendations are by no means panaceas but represent a straightforward and sincere attempt to contribute to the possible solutions that can be adopted in an attempt to significantly reduce the unemployment rate in Guyana and the Caribbean. The Caribbean is at a critical juncture in its history. It can maximise the benefits of integration and combine efforts to tackle the scourge of unemployment that threatens to engulf its youth, or it can ignore the plight of its youth and jeopardise our collective future. The choice, my friends, lies in our hands! I thank you.
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